German Immigrants Who Helped Shape America

The German immigrant story is a long one—a story of early beginnings, continual growth, and steadily spreading influence. Though they endured their share of hardship, they escaped much of the tragedy and harsh treatment that plagued many immigrant groups. Today, more than 40 million Americans claim German ancestry—more than any other group except the British. German immigrants were among the first Europeans to set foot in North America and helped establish England’s Jamestown settlement in 1608 and the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam—now New York—in 1620.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, many European powers forced their subjects to follow an official state religion. Therefore, when William Penn toured Germany in 1677, spreading the word of a new kind of religious freedom in the American colonies, he found a receptive audience. Many Germans, especially Protestants, were persuaded to join him in his colony of Pennsylvania. Drawn by the prospect of inexpensive land, German immigrants quickly moved to settle on the fringes of the new colonies. By the middle of the 18th century, German immigrants occupied a central place in American life. When the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, a German newspaper was the first to break the news. The strength and vitality of German publishing were the cornerstones of German culture in America and one of the reasons for its tremendous success. The military traditions of German-speaking immigrants also made a significant contribution to revolutionary America. General Von Steuben’s manual of regulations formed the basis of the manual of drill and organization used today by the U.S Army.

German immigration boomed in the 19th century. Wars in Europe and America had slowed the arrival of immigrants for several decades starting in the 1770s, but by 1830 German immigration had increased more than tenfold. After the failed German Revolution of 1848, antisemitic violence in Germany and Austria-Hungary drove thousands of German Jews to emigrate. Many of the newest immigrants made their way to America's farm country and others took their skills to the cities, thus making a strong impact on American culture and education. By the end of the 19th century, German Americans and German culture were generally accepted as necessary threads in the fabric of American life.

Legacy Stories from the Americans All Heritage Honor Roll

We are pleased to host and share these legacy stories created by honorees’ family, friends and associates. They, like us, appreciate that heritage and culture are an integral part of our nation's social fabric and want to help students participate effectively in our nation's economy, workforce and democracy.

Language
State
Last Name of Individual
First Name of Individual
Group name

German Immigration to Texas [Texas State Historical Association] (c.1830 - ?) Ethnic and Culture Group /node/564926

The largest ethnic group in Texas derived directly from Europe was persons of German birth or descent. As early as 1850, they constituted more than 5 percent of the total Texas population, a proportion that remained constant through the remainder of the nineteenth century. Intermarriage has blurred ethnic lines, but the 1990 United States census revealed that 1,175,888 Texans . . . 

Fredericksburg, Texas [Texas State Historical Association] (c.1845 - ?) American Town /node/564927

Fredericksburg, the county seat of Gillespie County, is seventy miles west of Austin in the central part of the county. The town was one of a projected series of German settlements from the Texas coast to the land north of the Llano River, originally the ultimate destination of the German immigrants sent to Texas by the Adelsverein. In August 1845 John O. Meusebach left New Braunfels . . . 

Frank Teich [Texas State Historical Association] (September 22, 1856 - February 27, 1939) Sculptor and Stonecutter /node/564932

Sculptor and stonecutter Frank Teich  was born in Lobenstein, Germany, the son of the poet Frederick and Catherine (Horn) Teich. At the age of eight he began painting, and after his graduation from the University of Nuremberg he was apprenticed to the German sculptor Johannes Schilling; he probably worked on the German national monument, The Watch on the Rhine. He then studied a year under the Franciscan Brothers at Deddelbach am Main.